The Vatican Vergil: A Masterpiece of Late Antique Art


Made in Rome around A.D. 400, the Vatican Vergil is the most famous and the most attractive illustrated book surviving from classical antiquity. David H. Wright introduces this masterpiece of late antique art and shows why it is such an impressive example of the new form of book, the codex, that replaced the traditional papyrus roll and permitted more elaborate illustrations. Here are thirty-two of the most interesting illustrations from the Vatican Vergil, reprinted in full color from the 1980 facsimile published in Graz, Austria, in collaboration with the Vatican Library. Facing each reproduction is the appropriate text from Vergil, in Latin and in English, together with explanatory comments.

Wright discusses how the manuscript was made, describing the style of the capital script and of the illustrations as well as their sources in older classical traditions. He examines the Vatican Vergil as an example of the revival of classical culture in pagan circles in Rome at a time when Christian authority was systematically suppressing pagan religion. Finally, he surveys the "afterlife" of the codex, tracing how the work was studied and copied first in the Carolingian era and then in the Italian Renaissance. All the illustrations not reproduced in color are given at full size in black and white in a concluding list of the illustrations that have survived in this unique masterpiece.

Publication date: 
August 30, 1993
Publication type: